Trumpeter Corey Wilkes has been making waves locally and nationally for a few years, coleading a twin-trumpet combo with Maurice Brown early on, joining the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and recording with Exploding Star Orchestra, Roscoe Mitchell, and Evan Parker. He’s finally getting around to releasing an album as a leader–two albums, in fact, both this year. Just out is Drop It (Delmark), a record cut with an extended local group. Though Wilkes’s credentials might lead you to expect otherwise, he doesn’t exactly come across like an envelope pusher on this disc–the music rides on tight, plush grooves that insinuate themselves somewhere between smooth jazz and neosoul.

Wilkes and his front line (Jabari Liu on alto sax and either Chelsea Baratz or Kevin Nabors on tenor) play some serious shit, leaving no doubt that they’ve got real skills and plenty of improvisational ideas. But the tunes, most of which are framed by nice postbop heads, are so vamp heavy they don’t provide much grist for the mill. Though drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons drops plenty of busy fills and jagged accents, by and large the rhythm section does little to stretch out the ultracompact grooves–hip-hop clearly figures into the rhythmic constructions, but this tends to limit the improvisational possibilities rather than open them up, the counterexamples provided by Steve Coleman’s groups notwithstanding. I prefer a piece like “Searchin’,” where keyboardist Robert “Baabe” Irving III opts for acoustic piano rather than Fender Rhodes, letting more air into the arrangement.

I haven’t heard Wilkes’s second record, due later this year from Pi Recordings, but judging by the label’s aesthetic, I’m guessing it’ll cover some of the more adventurous styles in his vocabulary. I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Wilkes for exploring multiple sides of musical personality–I think it’s great that he’s doing it–but personally I’m more interested in his playing when he goes harder against the grain.

Wilkes celebrates the release of Drop It with two performances tonight. At 8:30 PM he plays as part of the Close Up 2 Smooth Jazz Festival in Pritzker Park (State and Van Buren), and then at 11 PM he and his group play a set inside the club (416 S. Clark).

Today’s playlist:

Eliane Radigue, CHRY-PTUS (Schoolmap)
Shelly Manne & His Men, Checkmate (OJC)
Djavan, A Voz, ao Violão, a Música de Djavan (Bomba, Japan)
Willi Williams, Messenger Man (Blood and Fire
Paul Desmond, Paul Desmond Quintet/Quartet (OJC)